Cover: Evaluation of Families Forward Learning Center

Evaluation of Families Forward Learning Center

Participant Perspectives and Student Outcomes

Published Aug 3, 2020

by Jill S. Cannon, Jonathan Schweig, Rachel Perera

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Research Questions

  1. How do FFLC participants perceive the benefits of the program retrospectively? How do these perceived benefits compare with the intended benefits?
  2. What is the relationship between FFLC participation and children's educational outcomes through third grade?

The Families Forward Learning Center (FFLC) offers a two-generation learning program for low-income families with children from birth to 5 years old in Pasadena, California. The program aims to prepare participants—mothers and their children—to succeed in school and life. This report summarizes a mixed-methods evaluation of the program that used retrospective interviews with former program participants to elicit their perceptions of program benefits, as well as analyses of student kindergarten and third-grade educational outcomes.

Nearly all mothers experienced benefits for themselves and perceived benefits for their children and/or families that exceeded their expectations. Mothers reported they benefited from English lessons, other educational and professional opportunities, parenting lessons, access to mental health and other social services, increased social capital, increased engagement in their children's education, and learning about nutrition.

Analyses of Pasadena Unified School District data suggest several positive short- and longer-term effects on educational outcomes for FFLC students compared with demographically similar peers. FFLC students had statistically significant higher attendance and reduced chronic absenteeism in kindergarten, though the effects appear to diminish by third grade. FFLC students also demonstrated meaningfully higher scores on English Language Arts and mathematics assessments in third grade. These findings should be viewed cautiously as preliminary evidence of program impacts because of potential unobserved differences in the families that participate in FFLC. The report concludes with implications for program leadership concerning ongoing programming and FFLC's impact on participating families.

Key Findings

Nearly all mothers experienced benefits for themselves and perceived benefits for their children and/or families that exceeded their expectations

  • Mothers reported they benefited from English lessons, other educational and professional opportunities, parenting lessons, access to mental health and other social services, increased social capital, increased engagement in their children's education, and learning about nutrition. Mothers also perceived a number of benefits for their children, including improved academic outcomes and social and emotional development.

Interviews with mothers highlighted several potential barriers to mothers' full participation in the program and realization of its benefits

  • These barriers included personal circumstances, work obligations, and time constraints.
  • Additionally, half of mothers reported challenges in continuing their education after program completion.

Analyses of Pasadena Unified School District data suggest several positive short- and longer-term effects on educational outcomes for FFLC participants compared with demographically similar peers

  • FFLC students had statistically significant higher attendance and reduced chronic absenteeism in kindergarten, though the effects appear to diminish by third grade.
  • FFLC students also demonstrated meaningfully higher scores on English Language Arts and mathematics assessments in third grade.
  • No statistically significant differences between groups were found for English language proficiency, grade retention, or suspension.

Recommendations

  • Continue to examine more specifically to what degree the program model is implemented as intended as well as areas where it might be strengthened to help guide continued program improvement.
  • Explore the reasons for lower engagement to determine if there are feasible programming adjustments to address the barriers.
  • Explore which pieces of the two-generation model may be contributing more specifically to expected outcomes by seeking participant feedback on which program components are working well or not well.
  • Consider future research that attempts to include a comparison group of similar mothers using a quasi-experimental design. It would also be useful to interview and follow a greater number of mothers at both program entry and after program completion and consider including objective measures of their outcomes to gauge program effects (e.g., administer English language assessments or use an observation tool to assess parenting practices in the home).
  • Consider collecting social and emotional measures for participating children and comparison children independently, as this is an important outcome where district data do not exist currently.
  • Explore outcomes for younger siblings of FFLC participants to examine how the program affects additional children.

Research conducted by

This research was sponsored by the Families Forward Learning Center and conducted by RAND Education and Labor.

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